The Casual Blog

Tag: Flywheel

Spinning hard, mental health, and getting inspired by a great violinist (Joshua Bell)

 

I’ve been finding it hard to get in a good gear recently at my weekly Friday morning spin class, but  yesterday I kicked butt and took names! My final score was a healthy 337, and I came in first by a good margin.  My recent scores have been a little over 300, and there have been several strong riders who have made that look quite unimpressive.  I appreciated their not showing up this week and letting me look good.

There was a report in the Wall Street Journal recently about the types of exercise that were best for mental health.   The best ones were team sports and group exercises, like cycling and yoga.   So spinning may be doing my brain some good. I’ve also been getting to yoga class a couple of times a week, which I’m confident is good for my head.  

Speaking of mental health, I finished up the introductory mindfulness meditation course provided by Calm, the smart phone app.    I found it worthwhile.  Mindfulness meditation is really simple, in a way, and it’s easy to find basic directions online.  But the Calm coaching gave me some new perspectives, and helped with motivation.

On Thursday, we had dinner at Capital Club 16, and then heard the N.C. Symphony play the Brahms violin concerto with violinist Joshua Bell.  Bell has been much hyped as perhaps our greatest living violin virtuoso, which is bound to raise questions.  But he completely lived up to the hype:  he was truly electrifying. I got big goosebumps and moist eyes, and also a richer understanding of this great concerto. He performed on a Stradivarius instrument that Brahms had heard play this very piece.  Bell’s cadenza, which he composed, was a brilliant distillation of Brahmsian thought.

Some great virtuosos are intimidating, and make music students think of quitting.  Bell, however, made me want to listen harder and be a better musician. Music in the classical tradition takes time and effort to enjoy, and it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s worth it in the modern world.  But Bell made a strong case for its survival. The Brahms is a supreme technical challenge for the violinist, but also dauntingly complex for inexperienced listeners. It was cheering that a concert hall full of North Carolinians seemed to get it and love it.  In fact, we gave Bell a good ovation after the first movement. In the U.S., we almost always wait until after the last movement to clap, but apparently we agreed that Bell deserved to have us break the rule.

I loved the little poem in last week’s Sunday Times magazine:  On a Line by Proust, by Adam Gianelli.  It you’ve never read Proust or Milton, it may not hit you quite as strongly, but it might inspire you to try them.  Like Proust, it evokes the painful joy of recovering past experience, and how our literary lives can illuminate our ordinary lives.  

I’ve been making my way through the NY Times special titled The Plot to Subvert an Election, by Scott Shane and Mark Mazetti.   It’s basically the story of Putin, Trump, and us.  It is hard to believe that this happened, and is happening, and easy to feel overwhelmed.  Shane and Mazetti have done some great reporting, which is worth reading.

I went to Raulston Arboretum this morning and found these butterflies.  There were a lot of beautiful creatures flitting beyond range of my camera.   I was grateful for these.

Our sexism comes out, and the campaign to stop the Trump investigation boots up

At the edge of the marsh near the Elizabeth River

Early Friday morning, I completed my hundredth spin class at Flywheel.  I did not meet my goal of 300 points (285), but I made it in in the top three, and I certainly got my heart rate well elevated (low 160s). Afterwards I drove over to O2 gym for some upper body resistance work and stretching.  Then I came home and fixed a green smoothie for breakfast, this time with orange juice, almond milk, kale, banana, baby carrots, celery, and blueberries.  That’s a lot of health in one glass, and it was also tasty.  

I’m exercising to feel good and increase the chances that I’ll still be here when Donald Trump is gone.  It helps my mood, which needs all the help it can get these days.  In particular, the recent flood of stories of powerful men sexually harassing women is depressing.  It suggests our problem is a lot worse than I thought, and we may well have not hit bottom yet.  

It’s no surprise that some percentage of males are dangerous sexual predators, and that there’s a larger percentage prone to crossing the line.  What’s new is the level of tolerance for such behavior. Last year almost half the population voted for a presidential candidate who bragged on tape about sexual assault.  Now a candidate in Alabama with a well documented record of molesting young teenage girls and lying about it stands a good chance of being elected to the United States Senate.

I formerly assumed that we all — Republican, Democrat, or other —  would agree that it is beyond the pale for middle-aged men to sexually assault fourteen-year-old girls.  That is, there are plenty of close questions when it comes to the boundary areas of sex, but there are some, like that one, that I thought were beyond debate. But apparently not.

What does this mean?   I think we’re seeing something that has been right in front of our noses all our lives but seldom noticed.  That is, we have a system in which women formally have equal rights, but in certain respects are regarded as unworthy.  In the US, we allow women to vote, attend school, work, and wear what they want. But we also systematically pay them less, give them less authority, and accept as normal that they’ll be subject to some degree of sexual misconduct.  

Ferguson and Black Lives Matter began a wrenching process that exposed a  hidden strain of racism.  Similarly, the disgusting and illegal behavior of Trump, Weinstein, Moore, and others  may be the start of a process that shines the light on our entrenched sexism.  We may expand the dialogue and expand the population that considers and treats women as fully human, and get to the point that nothing less will be tolerated.      

I hope so.  Meanwhile, I’m worried by the new effort to discredit and undermine the investigation of Russia’s interference in the last presidential election.  The evidence of Russian assistance to the Trump campaign is already extensive, and the evidence of ties between Trump’s top aides and the Russians is growing.  Now, as the plot thickens, Robert Mueller and the FBI are being accused of being partisan hacks out to get the President for no good reason. 

This campaign of slime is being led by Trump, Fox, and several Republican Congressmen.  There’s a good Washington Post piece on this by Paul Waldman here.  There’s also an account of the House Judiciary Committee’s work along this line here.  

I was sufficiently astonished by this idea that I decided to get out of my own bubble and watch, for the first time ever, an hour of Fox News.

So we saw Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night, and it was both better and worse than expected.  Hannity and his guests are very skilled at weaving together uncontested facts with unfounded speculation and outright falsehoods so that they’re hard to distinguish.  The people are well-dressed and look serious and intelligent, and they all agree with each other on their key points.  

Thus several people at once will assent verbally and non-verbally to a proposition like “Hillary is the real criminal.”  They repeat their basic points over and over, but with enough variations that it isn’t completely obvious.  Unless you bring to the table a body of background knowledge, you might not notice the leaps in their reasoning, or the lack of any supporting evidence.    

So if you were to get all your news from Hannity, you might well believe that Trump is basically a good guy doing his level best and being unfairly thwarted by evil liberals.  And you might end up thinking that there’s no reason to worry about Russia taking over our political process.  At the same time, you might not be much concerned about electing sexual predators to high office.  

Hannity and Fox are really good at big lie propaganda.  Ordinary journalists can’t counter them as long as they are constrained by honesty and actual facts.  Reality based reporting doesn’t always fit neatly with our prejudices, and it just isn’t as exciting.  

Despite the effectiveness of Fox and Hannity, Trump’s poll numbers continue to sink.  I was heartened to read last week that his support among evangelical Christians had dropped by 17 percent since February.   Maybe it’s a trend.

I took these pictures last weekend when we visited my brother in the Virginia Beach area.  We got out on the Intercostal Waterway and did some kayaking.  The water was smooth and peaceful.  

A short brag, some bluegrass music, some brass, and a moving Cold Mountain opera

I’ve been trying to think of a way to share this without seeming to brag — and cannot.  So I’ll just brag:  I’ve been doing really well in my recent  spin (stationary bike) classes at Flywheel.  Their computers and software reveal how the spinners do relative to each other, which tends to make me try harder.  And I’ve come in first in the class in three of the last four Friday 6:00 a.m. classes, and number two in the fourth.  The average age of my fellow spinners was about half  my own.  My final score this Friday, 315, was not a record, but I was happy enough, and tired enough.  

It was a good start to another active arts weekend in piedmont North Carolina.  The annual IMBA bluegrass music festival took over downtown Raleigh, with pedestrians only on Fayetteville Street and connecting side streets, and several blocks worth of crafts and snacks pedlars.   After work on Friday, we had some fine Mexican food at Centro, then strolled about, and listened to music at the free venues. For me, a little of the old-school, three-chord foot-stomping-type bluegrass music goes a long way.  But we heard a couple of groups that used the traditional instruments but went well beyond that traditional model, and especially enjoyed them.  

On Saturday evening we drove over to Durham, ate some great Italian food at Mothers and Sons, and went to the first concert of the season of the Duke Chamber Series.  The performance was by the American Brass Quintet.  They did a program of mostly sixteenth century and modern works (Hillborg, Tower, Ewazen), plus some music from nineteenth century Russia.  These guys are good!  Back in college days, I played with a brass quintet, with great enjoyment of the brass sounds and the repertoire.  Hearing a chamber brass performance at this high level was a treat.

On Sunday afternoon we drove over to Chapel Hill for the N.C. Opera’s production of a new opera, Cold Mountain, with music by Jennifer Higdon and libretto by Gene Scheer.  I’ve enjoyed  Higdon’s music, but this was her first opera, and we didn’t know what to expect.  On the whole, the production was a great success.  It deftly created a universe, with quirky characters and settings, and the story was well told — highly dramatic but very human.  

The sets, lighting, and costumes all were imaginative and well executed, and the singers and orchestra sounded great.  At first I found the vocal writing a bit meandering, but in the second act it started to work for me. I found the climax very moving.  The near sell out audience gave an enthusiastic standing ovation.  It was cheering to see a large crowd come to a brand new opera with such enjoyment.  There’s still hope for the future of opera.  

Eno River wildflowers, a good spin, and some favorite podcasts

The Eno River, near the ruin of the old pump station

On Friday, I had a mini-adventure exploring Eno River State Park.   I asked a friendly staffer  at the park office for a good place to look for wildflowers, and so found my way to the pump station trail.  

It was a lovely calming place.   I walked slowly, looking for tiny blossoms, some of whom are shy and easy to miss.   Sometimes I got down on my belly for an extreme close up.   I heard the river and a  number of migrant warblers singing, though I couldn’t see them in the new leaves.  

On Saturday morning I did a 45-minute spin class at Flywheel, which I’ve been trying to do once a week.  As usual, it was hard.   I met my objectives of getting 300 points ( though barely, with 301), and staying out of last place.  In fact, I finished first in the class.  I also set a new record for my average heart rate, with 158, and a peak of 168.  And I didn’t die!

Eno flowers-3Most mornings I’ve been getting up at 5:05 and heading to the gym.  I’ve been swimming one day a week, and on the others I do a combination of various aerobic machines (stairs, treadmill, elliptical, bike, row) and weights.

During the non-wet workouts I’ve been listening to some stimulating and fun podcasts.  I usually start with some news in Spanish (Voz de America) and French (RFI), and then explore some history, science, or other interesting domain.  Here are some recent favorites.

S-Town.  I finished the seventh of seven episodes last week, and loved it!    This was done by  some of the same creative folks that did Serial and has a similar format.  It starts out being about a crime in a small Alabama town, but ends up being about a quirky and mercurial guy and his community.  Parts of it are shocking and tragic, but it’s also funny and compelling.     

Radiolab.  These folks focus on science and social issues, and sometimes they’re very lively.  I particularly liked their recent episode on our nuclear command structure, which gives the President complete and unconstrained control of a nuclear force that could end the world as we know it.    That is, we put the question of whether the human race survives or not in one person’s hands.  I learned there’s a pending bill that would add some congressional oversight, which could mitigate this existentially risky situation a little.

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Common Sense.  From time to time, Dan Carlin does long form podcasts on public policy matters, and they are well researched and thought-provoking.   His most recent one concerns America’s health care system, which he points out is not by any measure the best in the world, but is far and away the most expensive.   Carlin has some ideas on how we got to this absurd state of affairs, and how we might get out.

Rationally Speaking.  The format here is Julia Galef interviewing smart people about social and philosophical issues.  This week I went into the archive and listened to her conversation with Peter Singer about ethics and animal rights, and liked it a lot. 

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Waking Up.  This is another podcast where a smart person, here Sam Harris, interviews another smart person.  The most recent one is a conversation with Lawrence Krauss, which covers a wide range, from quantum physics to the under-appreciated nuclear threat to the overhyped threat of Islamic terrorism.

The New Yorker Radio Hour.  Somehow David Remnick manages to edit the New Yorker, read everything, watch a lot of television, and do this podcast. Each episode has several segments, which usually include an author talking about a recent piece in the magazine.  Those are usually goods, though just as with the magazine, there are some that I would skip.  

This American Life.  Even after all these years on NPR, Ira Glass and company are still almost always fresh and original.  

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Guilty pleasures, my new grand piano, and understanding mass delusions

Daffodils at Fletcher Park, March 4, 2017

Daffodils at Fletcher Park, March 4, 2017

It’s been pleasantly mild in Raleigh this week, bringing out the early spring flowers, though it got colder this weekend.  I’ve been in good spirits, which is hard to explain.    With so many big things to worry about, I’ve felt a little guilty about this happiness.   But what can you do?

On Friday I had a successful spinning class with Matt at Flywheel. Despite a couple of weeks off, I finished with the first place score, with 320 points.  Almost everyone (or everyone)  in the class was considerably younger than me.   It’s invigorating to try to keep up with younger people, and especially fun to go faster than them!

Gabe and I had lunch this week at the Remedy Diner, and talked about the possibility of his becoming a partner in a new print-jobbing and graphic design firm.  He’s already doing web site design and related print design work, and the new business could be a good platform.  I’m excited for him, and enjoyed kicking around some of the practical aspects, like finding clients, office space, legal services, accounting, and insurance.

My new Fazioli F228

My new Fazioli F228

This week I figured out how to work forScore, an app for reading piano music on my tablet device.  There’s a massive amount of great music in the public domain and available for free on sites like IMSLP.org, but it’s cumbersome to work with unbound paper copies.  Just as my tablet has become my primary tool for reading books, it might become that for music.  Another plus is solving the problem of page turning.  In prior generations, pianists needed two hands to play the instrument and a third hand to turn pages, but I’m getting a little wireless foot pedal that should do the job.

I’m in love with my new grand piano, a Fazioli F228. The sound is amazing!  It is truly a joy to play.  It’s a 2003 instrument that I acquired from a businessman in Greenwich, Connecticut, who’d got it for his young son to learn on.  Since then, it’s been lovingly tended to by an experienced technician, but barely used.  It will certainly be used by me.  I’ve been delving into my favorite music of Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy, and discovering beautiful new prospects.  I’m selling my Steinway A, a 2004 instrument with a really lovely tone, if you know anyone who might be interested.

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Being of such good cheer, I’d planned to abstain from political discussions this week.  But I can’t resist sharing links to a couple of articles with very intriguing ideas about a big question:  are we losing our grip on reality?  The White House’s attacks on the media, the justice system, scientific consensus, and other institutions initially seemed to me so bizarre and ridiculous that I assumed no one would take them seriously.  But some people are.

Alexander George in the NY Times compared the situation to a famous forger of Vermeer’s work who succeeded by temporarily changing, through his own fake paintings, the understanding of what qualified as a Vermeer.  George points up that we judge the validity of new information based on our current knowledge base, including the concepts we’ve developed as to what sources are reliable.  If someone were to convince us that we could no longer trust scientists or journalists, our existing knowledge base would be undermined.  Rationality would be seriously impaired, as would political organization and action.  Query, is this the Bannon plan?

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Also in the sad, failing, fake news Times, Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman wrote a piece entitled Why We Believe Obvious Untruths, which centers on an idea that is both simple and profound.    The answer, they say, is not lack of intelligence.  Fernbach and Sloman point out that human knowledge is essentially collective — dependent on knowledge of other humans.  The things we think we know are for the most part actually things we’re confident somebody else knows.   While this system of collective intelligence allows for the large and long collaborations necessary for the greatest human achievements, it also accounts for our susceptibility to mass delusions.  

For better and for worse, we largely rely on our communities for knowledge, and our tools for detecting when our communities go awry are not so good.  As others have noted, we have a tendency to believe new information that fits with whatever we (and our community) already believe and ignore and suppress everything else, which has an error magnification effect.  Social media serves for many as news fast food that compounds the echo chamber problem.

Thus it turns out to be easy for groups to come to strong agreement in support of ideas overwhelmingly at odds with the weight of the evidence.  QED:  climate change is a hoax, immigrants are threatening us with terrorism, our military is too weak, etc.

On a cheerier note, speaking of intelligence, there was a report this week of experiments showing that insects have a lot more mental capacity than previously thought.  They aren’t just automatons operating on pure instinct, but  can learn and solve problems.  Scientists at the Queen Mary University in London taught bumblebees to roll a little ball across a platform in exchange for a reward.  Amazing!  

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Flying, flowers, a fund raiser, Pavlensky, and secret condos for the superrich

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I got a flying start on Friday at the 6:00 a.m. Flywheel spin class . Last week I had a discouraging outing (scoring 162) and wondered if I’d started the inevitable downward slide. But this week I made a comeback, getting off to a good start and staying strong for 45 minutes. After trailing just behind the pacemakers, I pulled slightly ahead with about 6 minutes to go. But the fellow just behind would not concede. I pushed hard, but he pushed a little harder. Final score, Tiller 320. Rival 321. It would have been good to get two more points, but I was happy with my performance.
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On Friday afternoon we drove over to Chapel Hill for a fundraiser for Roy Cooper, the democratic candidate for governor here in NC, fighting the good fight to unseat incumbant Pat McCrory. Roy is our attorney general, and I also know him personally a little, from sometimes having the same early morning schedule at the gym. (He’s a good stretcher.)

He seemed cheerful on Friday. I told him I was glad to see he was standing strong against HB2 (the anti-transgender bathroom bill), and referred hm to my op-ed piece on the First Amendment violations by its supporters. He said he expected a tough campaign, andd I told him I expected him to sweep in while McCrory got swept out in a massive Trumpigeddon.

We had a nice chat with one of Roy’s daughters, and caught up with some old friends. Afterwards, we had dinner on Franklin Street at Lantern, a fine restaurant. They only had one vegetarian entrée, but it was a good one: wok-seared rice noodles.
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I took most of these photos at Raulston Arboretum on Saturday morning (the others are from last week). I’d been looking forward to watching the insects there and trying to capture some images with my Tamron 180 mm lens, a hefty tool that I use with a monopod. I had some successes, but a lot of misses, with some bizarre over- and underexposures. I took the lens back to Peace Camera in the afternoon. They agreed there was a problem and said they’d send it back to the factory for repair.
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This week I learned for the first time of the shocking and awesome work of Pytor Pavlensky, a Russian dissident performance artist. In his most recent work, he set fire to the front door of Russia’s principal intelligence agency, then waited to be arrested, which he was. Per the NY Times, “He has described his art as consisting of two parts: his actions and the reactions of the government, which he says tend to be mutually reinforcing.” His Wikipedia entry describes several even more shocking gestures of protest, such as sewing his mouth shut and nailing his scrotum to a crack in Red Square.

With this strange art, the point is completely clear. Pavlensky’s combination of extraordinary courage and imaginative vision is singular. The thuggish government of Vladimir Putin is a great target, of course, though there are aspects of our own government that could benefit from the abrasion of Pavlensky’s spirit.
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Every Sunday, one of my guilty pleasures is examining the full-page condo ads in the New York Times Magazine. These super-high-rise apartments have stunning city views, exquisite modernist decor, and multi-multi-million dollar price tags. They are sprouting like mushrooms in Manhattan. Who lives in such digs? Well, the Times sent a reporter to find out, and he found out remarkably little. Some of the most expensive real estate on earth is owned by Anonymous – that is, mysterious shell corporations.

What is there to hide? Could these super-luxury apartments amount to wealth storage containers for loot from first, second, and third world countries’ assorted dictators, authoritarian party leaders, and kleptocrats, along with their families and cronies? They could. Could they be the trophies of the lucky one percent of the one percent, mostly born with money and augmenting that through procurement of favorable tax laws? They could. It’s natural to be envious of such luxury. But just think of this gift: our lives are not burdened with fear that others may learn that our wealth is unfairly grifted and throw us in prison for corruption — or worse.
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A big spin, an op ed on free speech, Korean death fans, the unbelievable Donald, and what to say about Hiroshima

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Work bled over into Saturday, so I didn’t get outside for a photo-walk (these photos are from last week), but I did do an early spin class at Flywheel.All of my previous Flywheel spins there were 45 minutes, but this one was a full hour. I had some concerns that that extra quarter-hour could cause problems (such as woofing, or death), but I survived. Final score: 398. Finishing position: number one. Endorphins: plenty.

This week the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer published the op ed piece I co-authored with Michael Gerhardt about HB2 and the First Amendment. The thesis was that legislators who threaten retaliation for those who speak out against the transgender bathroom bill are chilling free speech guaranteed by the Constitution, and that should not be tolerated.

After I’d noticed the issue and decided it was serious, I reached out to Michael, a UNC Law professor and constitutional law expert, to see if he concurred in my analysis, and he suggested we collaborate on the piece. It was fun working together, and I got a kid-like thrill when the piece went live and people started posting reactions.
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Speaking of little newspaper pieces, there was a fascinating one in the NY Times this week about South Koreans’ fear of electric fans. South Koreans, a notably hard-working, sophisticated, tech-savvy people believe that sleeping with an electric fan blowing in the room can result in death. Fans are sold with special sleep timers. There are government warnings and media reports of fan deaths. Apparently this fear doesn’t exist outside South Korea.

We might once have thought it almost impossible for a large population to adopt an idea so comically loony, but no more. For example, right here in the USA, there are those who deny the fundamental facts of climate change or the need to do anything about it, including Donald Trump. And there is the stranger-than-truth story of Donald Trump, as of this week the official presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for president.

How could any significant number of people believe this man would make a good leader — of anything? How could anyone watch him for five minutes and fail to notice that he’s ignorant, crass, and shallow? How could large groups of people ignore the florid delusions and the almost non-stop lying, big lies, lies so blatant and transparent that they they seem proudly designed to be understood to be lies? Or the bullying, mean-spirited nastiness?

I’m not saying he’s all bad, mind you. At time he’s funny, and every now and again he says something that is not crazy. But it would be madness to entrust this guy with responsibility for addressing climate change, preventing nuclear war, or for cleaning up after himself, which is to say, any significant or insignificant responsibility. I continue to think that he will lose in a landslide that sweeps out a lot of other worse-than-useless pols. But even in that case, we’ll still have the not-so-funny, puzzling, and fairly disturbing reality that millions of our fellow citizens do not think the Donald is a contemptible joke.
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What would Trump say at Hiroshima? One shudders to think. This was clearly a problem this week for President Obama, a person in many ways Trump’s opposite. Let’s say you have sufficient moral capacity to understand it was horribly wrong to do a demo of the first atomic bomb by killing 140,000 civilians. Yet it would roil diplomatic alliances and certain important constituencies to apologize for this atrocity. So Obama, ever brilliant, delivered the most apologetic non-apology imaginable. He highlighted the horror, hugged victims, and called for movement towards a world without nuclear weapons.

His speech was in places Lincolnesque – moving, stirring, and inspiring — though also in places oddly ambiguous, disjointed, and restrained. Here are some of the good parts:

Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become. . . .

Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

That I why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. . . .

Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again. . . . The memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945 must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change. . . .

Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. . . .

It’s clear that Obama understands the enormity of the nuclear peril, including the risk that our gigantic stockpile of nuclear weapons could end up destroying most every living thing on the planet including us. He’s repeatedly called attention to this existential risk. But he hasn’t made much progress in actually reducing it.

There are, of course, powerful institutional forces supporting the status quo of standing on the nuclear precipice – the military-industrial complex, now much more powerful than when President Eisenhower named it, and the fearful conservative mind set that exaggerates possible threats and reflexively resists reform. What if Obama just ordered destruction of half of our nukes? Would the missile officers refuse the order? Would there be impeachment proceedings, or a coup?

I doubt it, but there’s something that holds him back. Anyhow, he has made a judgment that he needs to change minds to prepare the way for a changed reality, and perhaps his speech will help with that.
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My Saturday: dog care, the arboretum, spinning, piano, golf, and Chinese food

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Sally went to Greensboro this week with her tennis team to play in the state championship, so I took over the primary dog duties – walking, feeding, and petting. Stuart, our friendly Beagle-Bassett mix, dropped into our life as a rescue pup 13 years ago, and grew up to become the best dog ever. In the last few months he has lost a lot of his sight and almost all of his hearing. But he still loves his walks, his food, and being petted. And I like petting him. It’s warm and calming.
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On Saturday morning, after taking care of Stuart and Rita (the cat), I went up to Raulston Arboretum with my camera. It had rained all night and stopped shortly before I got there. The garden was very lush, and the plants were glistening. There was hardly anyone else there, so I felt particularly privileged to see these beautiful blooms at their moment of perfection.

From the arboretum, I drove to Cameron Village to take a spin class at Flywheel with the peppy Vashti. She announced she was getting married next week, and seemed particularly energized. I battled hard with another rider for second place. My final score was 311, two points ahead of my rival. My average heart rate at 155, and my sweat was copious.
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That afternoon I worked on my photos in Lightroom, started writing an op-ed piece about transgender issues, and practiced the piano. I’m memorizing some gorgeous lyrical music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, and trying to master some challenging flying Chopin, Liszt and Debussy. For some time, I’ve been meaning to do some recording of my interpretations, which I will share on YouTube if I ever do.
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Afterwards, I went up to Golftec to practice my swing and check the results on their video monitors. After several weeks of lessons with Jessica, I’ve succeeded in eliminating some of my old, bad habits, and I understand a lot more about the elements of an effective swing, but my muscles are resistant to doing what’s needed. It’s discouraging. It could be that I’m close to the promised land, but I also might just be starting out on a long sojourn in the wilderness. It has occurred to me that it might be best to chuck it. But I still enjoy practicing and the beauty of the game, so I’m planning to forge on, at least for a while.
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Sally’s team won some and lost some, finishing in the middle of the pack, and she came home in the afternoon. For dinner we tried out a new restaurant in the neighborhood, China-O. Back in the day, Chinese was our favorite ethnic food, but then we moved on to other ethnicities, like Thai, Japanese, and Indian. China-O seems to be a sister of the adjacent Sushi-O, with similar mod decor, and seems to be emphasizing the Szechuan style. There were plenty of vegetarian options. Our dishes were spicy and delicious, and we’ll be going back.
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Spinning, credit card fraud problems, and the tax system for the super rich

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On Saturday morning I had a particularly good spinning outing led by Heather at Flywheel. The previous week was a disappointing one, when I tried hard to reach 300 but finished with a total score of 286.  It made me wonder if I’d finally started that long slide down to the bottom. But this week I finished first in the class with 341! My average heart rate for the 45 minutes was 157 — a record.  There was one guy who stayed close on my tail the whole way, and was just two points behind when the music stopped. Whew!

That afternoon, I had my monthly deep tissue massage session with Ken Katchuk (K2). Ken is really generous with his skills and time, and we set a new personal best: two hours and twenty minutes on the table. It was challenging at times, but we had a good talk about sports, movies, politics, and dogs, and I felt great afterwards.

One of the greatest of modern conveniences has got to be the credit card, which has greatly shrunk the time and distance between a wish and its fulfillment. How amazing to have a need or want, have an online merchant, have a credit card, and very quickly have that object of desire. At the end of this week, though, I had my Visa card declined, first at Happy and Hale (for a lovely salad), then at Hayes Barton Pharmacy, then at Fandango (movie tickets).

I called Capital One, and a cheery fellow in the fraud department read out several charges from Ft. Worth, Texas that were definitely not mine. He said someone had made a counterfeit version of my card. Anyhow, that account is now history. I’m happy Capital One detected the fraud promptly, and happy I won’t be responsible for the fraudulent charges. Still, it’s a bit of a pain, since I’ve got to get a new card and remember to pass then new number to various providers of goods and services.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever prevent all fraud, and we may even be headed in the opposite direction. There’s little doubt that our electronic transaction system is a point of vulnerability. There are highly skilled, ethically challenged people in front of computer screens all around the globe searching for ways to take our money. Thus I’ve gradually converted to non-obvious passwords. You do what you can.

Tiller7Bug 1-2Speaking of systems and fraud, the Times had a significant piece recently about the corruption just below the surface of the US tax system. Here’s a bit from the beginning:

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.”

The article gives various examples, and explains that the very wealthiest and their tax experts are continually devising sophisticated new schemes. These same people are also the biggest contributors to political campaigns. Could these facts not be related? Once you begin to get you head around this, you might (unless you’re in the one-thousandth percentile) start to get mad. It’s not fair.

So why is this not a huge political issue? I see two main reasons. 1. The existing candidates for the most part are complicit in the status quo. 2. It’s too complicated. That’s part of the point: the tax dodges are designed by experts to defy understanding. Just comprehending a single tax scheme (there are many such) is beyond the mental capacity of most of us, including the IRS, and we’ve got other demands on our time and brain power.

I should note that there’s one major exception among the presidential candidates, who is very focused on the unfairness of favoring the super rich in the tax system: Bernie Sanders. He’s put the issue of addressing inequality and eliminating their special tax breaks  front and center. And against all odds, he’s still in the hunt for the democratic nomination. I have trouble picturing him in the oval office, but I’m very glad he’s getting fundamental issues like this one onto the discussion agenda.

Our Thanksgiving – spinning, piano, football, eating, and talking about terrorism

Mowgli Tiller

Mowgli Tiller

Thanksgiving morning, after I walked the dogs and read the newspapers, Jocelyn and I went to Flywheel for a spin class – our first together, and her first Flywheel experience. After getting the bike adjusted and bike shoes clipped in, the music started, loudly. I pushed hard, in a close battle for first place, and ended with a score of 325 – 10 ahead of the nearest male competition (and well behind one amazing woman). It was my first ever first, and I was kind of proud! Jocelyn also did well, staying well out of the cellar.

That afternoon, I practiced the piano with a view to getting ready for a lesson with Olga on Sunday. I’ve been working on several challenging and beautiful pieces, including Liszt’s Un Sospiro, Debussy’s Reflets dans l’Eau, and Schumann’s Arabesque. I’ve also finally felt strong enough to take on Liszt’s powerful Vallee d’Oberman. I think I’ve gotten off a plateau and climbed a bit higher. My playing lately feels more technically secure, and also more fluid and imaginative. Olga has certainly been a wonderful guide and inspiration. The meta lesson she gives is simple in concept, but hard to do: listen, listen, listen, more closely, and then more closely still.
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Then Jocelyn and I watched most of the Carolina Panthers v. Dallas Cowboys. The Panthers were 10 and 0 coming in to the game, a streak that had caught my interest and turned me into a fair weather fan. Jocelyn said that the Panthers were considered underdogs, which we agreed seemed disrespectful, and we were particularly happy to see them score early and go on to win decisively. Eleven and 0!

For Thanksgiving dinner, Jocelyn, a former professional bartender, created a new cocktail that she dubbed Apple Pie Manhattan, which involved infusing bourbon with apple, vanilla and cinnamon, and adding maple syrup, and dry Vermouth. It was delicious! Sally’s sister, Annie, brought Diane and her friend Debbie over, and Sally served a righteous butternut squash soup, black rice, and Mexican lasagna. Just like the Pilgrims!
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We spent part of the meal discussing politics, and debated whether Obama had been sufficiently forceful in opposing the anti-refugee backlash, and whether Trump had gone from being a mildly entertaining fool to being an instrument of evil. By using his media platform to demonize Muslims, he’s giving permission and energy to a large racist element of the population. The Times had a report on New Yorkers harassing and spitting on Muslim women, which is appalling and frightening.

At the same time, there seems to be a growing consensus that the solution to the terrorist threat is a coalition of nations to wipe out ISIS. This seems to me a bad strategy. We’ve spent the last 14 years using bullets and bombs trying to wipe out al Qaeda and the Taliban, without success. Indeed, our military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq helped spawn al Qaeda v. 2 – ISIS.

The source of terrorist violence is not particular individuals who can be killed, but social conditions, like poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education, corruption, violence, and authoritarianism, which produce feelings of alienation, desperation, and rage. When we kill one terrorist, we inspire new ones to swear vengeance and take up arms, and the cycle repeats. If we obliterate ISIS, without social change, there will be a successor to ISIS. Bullets and bombs will never work.

I wonder if there is already a good name for our tendency to insist on a direct or even violent solution to a scary problem, even when part of us can recognize that there’s no quick fix. If not, there should be, because we do it over and over. I suggest calling it Fear Control Activity Disorder. The person or society with this disorder seeks to overcome a feeling of fear with a feeling of control by taking action that is dramatic though unlikely to address the actual source of the fear. We crave the feeling of being in control, and insist on seeking control even when it’s objectively unachievable. The disorder could account for a lot of our military adventures, our overimprisonment of criminals, and our overspending on medical goods and services.
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